It was just announced that, as expected, Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout and Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw won the 2014 MVP awards. There seemed to be very little doubt this would be the outcome, despite the ever-existing bias against pitchers when it comes to the Most Valuable Player Award. He was simply that. With Trout, there didn’t even seem to be any consideration in a different direction, and there wasn’t a player that had a real argument to take votes from him. Victor Martinez and Michael Brantley, who were both discussed at length here and here, came in 2nd and 3rd place, but Trout won with unanimity. Back on the NL side, Kershaw picked up 18 of the 30 possible first place votes, with Giancarlo Stanton (8) and Andrew McCutchen (4) making up the rest. A congratulations to both Trout and Kershaw.
But Trout’s win still doesn’t sit totally right to me. Not because he didn’t deserve it, because he absolutely did. But because it took the lack of competition for him to actually win the award. He should have won the past two seasons over Miguel Cabrera as well, but the voters got it wrong. And now, it was was likely his worst season to date, he wins the award because Cabrera didn’t do as well either. It doesn’t feel like Trout won because he is the best player on the planet, but because there was no other choice.
And that isn’t to pretend I know what the voters were thinking. Obviously, they all agreed he was the most deserving of the honor. But consider this: in this MVP season, Trout posted a 167 wRC+ and a 7.8 fWAR. Amazing, obviously, but not too difficult to rival. In 2013, when Cabrera took home the trophy, he put up a 192 wRC+ and 7.6 fWAR, meaning he was arguably (depending on the accuracy of the defensive metrics) better than Trout was this year. If he repeated that in 2014, he would have finally had a legitimate argument over Trout, and probably would have won again, but this time it could have been the right choice. And even his 2012 campaign of a 166 wRC+ and 6.8 fWAR is in the ballpark. A 1 WAR difference is probably enough to feel confident in, and the offensive outputs would have been equal, leading me to still favor Trout. But it wouldn’t have been anything near the travesty that was picking 166/6.8 over 167/10.1 in 2012, or 192/7.6 over 176/10.5 in 2013.
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Now, I know there is no real solution to the uneasy outcome, besides for the writers to never get an award wrong again, and that isn’t a reasonable expectation. Trout was the MVP in his league, and he was recognized as such. It isn’t his fault the rest of the league got worse, and he only got less-worse. I don’t know what it is that’s puzzling me, as I can clearly accept the fact I just stated. Trout won, and it shouldn’t matter why or how. But for some reason it does, and it might be because what should feel like a victory for the sabermetrics poster child feels more like a victory by default. He didn’t win because of his wRC+ or WAR. He won, presumably because of various factors that aren’t completely known. Some of it was likely his 36 home runs, 111 Runs Batted In, and the fact that he plays (according to the eyes) good defense in center field.
But when you just take a look at the rest of the basic numbers, he doesn’t look that amazing. A .287 average, not even top 10 in the AL. A slugging percentage below Martinez and Jose Abreu. An on base that doesn’t crack the top five. Why the hell did the notoriously old school voters take him, unanimously, over others? Perhaps there is a small victory for the thinking fan, as they were able to overlook the basic offensive numbers and realize he also plays a premium position, and can run the bases. Heck, maybe they even realized that when you park factor he becomes the best hitter in the league. That last one is probably a stretch, but the others certainly aren’t. Despite that, part of me still wonders if he didn’t win with the vigor that he did simply because of the debate that went on the last two years over him and Cabrera. And once the opposition could be eliminated from the picture, the vote when to Trout by default.
I don’t want to give the impression that I am sitting here perplexed or troubled. I will go about my day as normal, with little to no effect. But when I get to considering what happened, rather than being completely happy and content with the outcome, a little fragment of my thought process feels amiss. I just don’t know precisely what or why. Maybe it’s as simple as not being particularly happy that it took a down year across the board for the God King Mike Trout to get his recognition. Maybe I’m being weird and irrational. Maybe I am completely right about everything always. I would love (respectful) commentary in the comments and on Twitter. Thanks for reading.